The scene from his hotel room screen in Nakuru still fills his mind. Let’s call him M. He’s from Muranga, he still drives the Datsun 120 Y that he bought in 1972 when he was a twenty two year old boy, and he’s got a family in the outskirts of Eldoret where his wife runs the family farm (cows and wheat) that he bought in 1982 from a white man fleeing the coup that “never happened,” as he is fond of saying. “So I got the farm cheap.”
That was 1982. M was a sharp hustler from Muranga, now he’s grown into an old-ish respectable farmer, 57 years in age, a bit of a sage and a scrooge who in-spite of his Shs.3 million in cash in Equity Bank (savings, he takes no loans) still drives a Datsun 120 Y, and why, till last night, he had never stayed at a hotel! He did now, in the fiery first days of 2008, at a place called Midlands Hotel because he has heard that the land is no longer safe.
There was a television set in the hotel room with one of those fancy new satellites that one finds everywhere these days, even in tiny little bars in Muranga where the boys wear foolish ‘Manchester United’ and ‘Arsenal’ T-shirts like silly English blokes and speak with animation of ‘van Pussy Cats’ and ‘Lonaldo.’ In his days, this excitement was exclusively reserved for the girls – who was “digging Muthoni’s mo-go-do” or Njeri’s, that’s what got the lads hot in his hay-day, not weird African men with curly kits on their heads and Croat sounding names like Drogba.
M fell asleep drinking White Caps, which he has drunk from 1975, in his fancy little hotel room … and dreamt of the peaks of Mount Kenya.
When he woke up, that funny American station called Cable News Network (the only ‘cables’ M knows so far are the troublesome ones that disconnect the carburetor in his 120 Y) was showing a burnt church, with fifty dead, somewhere in Eldoret.
‘Elsewhere.’ That’s how M always envisions those pictures – burnt churches in Rwanda, skeletons on the hard, sandy faces of Darfur, long endless ant-like lines of refugees in the D.R.C., and those other unpleasant images from Inside Africa that Western media seems so very enamored of.
But the burnt church was in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The fifty or five dozen dead were Kenyans of a certain community, there were no ‘Interhamwes’ or ‘janjaweeds’ or other exotically named murderers in this mix, it was Kenyan jinns …
And M was on his feet, and out of the hotel, before one could say the words “balkanization” or “ethnic tension” – and now, with the sun just coming up over the horizon, M is on his way to Eldoret to get his family and take them back to the safety of his house in Muranga.
In the blur of the blue-purplish-golden light of dawn road ahead, M notices what he thinks is road-side bush and bracken. At first. Bushes do not grow on tar-macadam roads, bwana!
As he gets closer, he notices that the obstacles are actually stones – little rocks that prop up bushes, like ominous flowers in menacing vases. M does not stop to wonder why this is so, why anyone in their right mind would bother with this weird fauna-and-floral arrangement, in the middle of a road to nowhere.
Well, not ‘nowhere’ exactly – Eldoret!
Like the practical man, and farmer, that he is, Mr. M, 57, gets out of his old blue Datsun 120 Y, looks up to the sky, then gets to work – pulling at the bracken to clear the road.
And from behind the tall grass on either side of the road, columns of men emerge … somewhere between ten and twenty men. Some are tall, some are short, some are rugged, some wear Western T-shirts with improbable messages like “Rainnkonnen Rules,”– and “Vote for Al Gore, 2000” They look like refugees from a beer budget movie called Old Sierra Leone. And in their hands, Mr. M. notes, they carry elongated shadows.
No, not shadows! It is the silhouettes of machetes, and suddenly Mr. M’s insides turn to maji. Now he can see the faces of some of the men, hate-contorted contours that appraise him savagely.
“Haka hakana pesa,” one of the men, dark brown snaggle – toothed snarls, and the mob looks at his old blue Datsun 120 Y, and laughs. The laughs aren’t merry. They are blood-sodden, sanguinary, somewhat liquid and hungry “Niko na chapa,” Mr. M hears himself mutter in a strange voice. He has never spoken sheng before, but terror lends lips new tongues “Twende ATM ya Equity …” he hopes they are highway robbers.
“Hapana!” one of the men screams, raising his panga to the sun, “Chomoa ID!” with trembling fingers, Mr. M. ‘chomoas’ his I.D. It falls to the ground. Another man, in tattered red and white shirt, snatches it up, dirty nails scraping the grimy road to Eldoret. “Huyu mbuyu ni mmoja wao waliiba kura,” the man yells, and his companions close in on Mr. M., who realizes he has wet himself for the first time since 1955, when he was just five.
Elongated shadows rise and fall in the sun.
The road to Eldoret is no El Dorado! In the middle of the murderous commotion, no-one notices when the driver’s side of the door of the 120 Y is slammed shut in the movement of the mayhem, or the exact moment that Mr. M becomes 1950 – 2008, R.I.P. The short rains are over. January will be hot and dry. And the rivers, for once, will run red and riot.
This piece is an excerpt from a longer story, ‘The Brinkipiece of Genocide’